Making Christ Visible

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In our ongoing series, this week we consider the fourth footprint of the Holy Spirit. This is the fourth of ten. And the discovery of these footprints is happening as we consider the Book of Acts, especially as the Book punctuates the indispensable importance of the Third Person of the Trinity to Christ’s mission in the world.

By way of quick reminder, the third footprint had to do with how the Holy Spirit first comes upon the gathering of believers collectively before he begins to also fill each believer individually. This speaks volumes as to the importance of the Church.

This week we pay attention to one of the miracles effected by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. As people gathered around the house (was it the Temple?) where the disciples had gathered, and where all the commotion was taking place, they heard the disciples publicly declaring the mighty works of God. Perhaps that would be miraculous enough. But the people gathered from throughout the Mediterranean basin to be in Jerusalem for the festival heard the disciples’ testimony in as many as fifteen different languages! The Holy Spirit miraculously gave the handful of disciples the ability to speak in different foreign languages!

Dr. Buba, one of the Assistants to the Bishop in the NALC, stated it this way: “There were fifteen different languages, but there was one message of what God has done.” Another memorable phrase of Dr. Buba was this. “The Holy Spirit who is 100% invisible, helps to make Christ 100% visible to us.” And he helps accomplish this by overcoming the divide of language, which represents different races, cultures, and nations.

Now as we wait upon the Lord in prayer and are filled with the Holy Spirit, our speaking of what God has done in Christ will be empowered. It will be empowered so that the Christian message is essentially one, and so that the barriers to communication can be overcome.

Since You Asked…

What is the meaning of the Incarnation?

The word incarnation is taken from Latin term incarnatio. It literally means “taking flesh” and in the Christian Faith it refers to God becoming human. In John 1:14 we learn of God the Son becoming flesh with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed the child born to Mary was a man, but it is the insistence of the Christian Faith that Jesus was also fully God. He is sometimes called the God-Man. Without ceasing to be fully divine, inseparable and equal to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; God the Son also fully assumed our humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In this way Jesus mediates God to man and then also represents man to God. The mystery of the Incarnation becomes a necessary means by which Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplishes our salvation.

The Workshop of the Holy Spirit

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In considering the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba’s 10 Footprints of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, we have already discussed the first two. First, we talked about the importance of our Lord Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples. And second, we spoke of the importance of waiting on the Lord in prayer so that we might be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Footprint number three has to do with how God goes about fulfilling his promise. The first pouring out of the Spirit is instructive. We read about it in Acts 2:1-4: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Notice that the Holy Spirit first fills the entire house where the disciples were gathered. And then he filled each individual believer. That is to say, the Holy Spirit comes upon the gathering of believers and then goes to work in individual lives!

Someone has called the church the workshop of the Holy Spirit. And here we need to think of the church, not primarily as a building, but rather as the gathering of believers. We like to say in our Lutheran tradition that it is the assembly of believers gathered around Word and Sacrament.

The Lutheran Confessions teach that the gifting of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life is in Holy Baptism. And we do not baptize ourselves! We receive baptism in the context of the church. And after this, with the nurture of the church we learn to rely on, and not to shut out, the gift of the Holy Spirit, thereby being constantly filled with the Holy Spirit.

Since You Asked…

What is the Christian’s Hope?

In a word, it is the resurrection of the body to life everlasting in the world to come. This is more accurate and complete than just saying “life after death.” It is also more helpful than saying “going to heaven.” When Jesus returns at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead, baptized believers will be raised bodily! They will share in a resurrection similar to Jesus’ resurrection. And being in his presence on that day and for all eternity is not just a matter of escaping to heaven, but living in his presence in the new heaven and earth. The Lord intends to renew and restore his creation. So our central hope is the resurrection of the dead, with believers inheriting the Kingdom.


Waiting on the Lord

 Photo by  Samuel Martins  on  Unsplash

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash

Last week I began a series of reflections on the ongoing mission of our Lord. The reflections are drawn from an address I heard from the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba at the NALC Convocation last August. He talked about “The Footprints of the Holy Spirit”, and he shared ten such footprints as found in the opening chapters of the Book of Acts.

The first footprint we identified last week is the promise of the Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to accompany believers as they give witness to the Gospel. It is important that we repeatedly speak this promise to each other, thereby reminding ourselves that we are not sent into the mission field alone!

The second footprint has to do with the Holy Spirit coming to those who wait upon the Lord. Jesus instructed his first disciples to “wait for the promise of the Father”. The disciples were not to leave Jerusalem until the sending and imparting of the Holy Spirit. Soon enough they would be told to leave Jerusalem, and to be his witnesses to the end of the earth (vs. 8). But they are not to go forth until they are equipped and accompanied by the Holy Spirit.

In this instance there is a literal waiting, ten days, from the time of Jesus’ Ascension until the Jewish Festival of Pentecost. It was at this Festival that the promise came to fruition and the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples in a rather dramatic way. You can read about it in Acts 2:1-13.

Significantly, it important to know what the disciples were doing as they were waiting in Jerusalem. As we learn in 1:14 they were with one accord devoting themselves to prayer. From this we understand that prayer is the way we wait upon the Lord! When we rush into things without prayer, we fail to wait upon the Lord. Instead, we attempt to make a go of it in our own wisdom and strength. Little wonder we don’t get far!

Since You Asked…

Are announcements necessary? And should they be included as a part of the liturgy?

Not all announcements are necessary! Nor should they be allowed to disrupt the rhythmic flow of the service. It is likewise important that announcements be kept to a minimum. But certain announcements are important. Information that will enhance participation in the worship, information pertaining to further Christian service, and information for regarding further opportunities for spiritual edification are such announcements of importance, and they are worthwhile to promote publicly to the assembly. We have chosen the beginning of the worship service as the most helpful and least disruptive placement for announcements.


Footprints of the Holy Spirit

I heard an excellent Keynote Address at the Mission Festival which started the Annual NALC Convocation last month in Denver, Colorado. The speaker was the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba, the Assistant to the Bishop for Missions for the North American Lutheran Church. Dr. Buba is originally from Ethiopia and he now lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and three children.

The theme of the week was “The Holy Spirit: Calling | Gathering | Enlightening | Sanctifying”. Some of you may recognize the four attributes as coming from Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Creed.

What impressed me about Dr. Buba’s address at the Mission Festival was the way he emphasized the all-important work of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s ongoing mission to make disciples of all nations (cf. Mt. 28:19-20). And he did so by sharing what he identified as the ten “Footprints of the Holy Spirit” in the opening chapters of the Book of Acts. I would like to share with you these footprints in the upcoming weeks. They will be immensely helpful to us in our outreach at Gift of Grace.

In the opening five verses of Acts, Luke recalls the summation of his first Book, that being the Gospel of Luke. He writes of Jesus’ resurrection and his repeated resurrected appearances to his disciples over 40 days. And then prior to Jesus’ ascension Luke wrote this, “while staying with them [Jesus] ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The first footprint of the Holy Spirit is the Lord’s promise to send the Holy Spirit. Dr. Buba insists that it is important for us to continually speak the promise, for we need to be reminded that we are not sent into the Lord’s mission alone! We are accompanied by God the Holy Spirit!

Since You Asked…

Does the receiving of money offerings play a significant role in the worship service?

Yes, more than you might think! Cash is one of the strongest symbols in modern culture. When we offer our money on the altar it should represent our time and effort – our very selves. In early Christian worship gifts-in-kind were handled during the weekly assemblage. In our post-industrial societies, we now exchange in paper or metal symbols. The offering of our selves upon the altar is in response to God’s love proclaimed in the Good News and in anticipation of how God offers back that which is entrusted to him. During the moment of offering we also offer bread and wine upon the altar, and in return these gifts are offered back to us as the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Learning the Ten Commandments

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According to Martin Luther anyone considering himself to be a Christian should at bare minimum know the Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Luther made this remark in his preface to the Small Catechism.

What prompted Luther’s comment was a visit he paid to parishes that had come under sway of the Reformation. He found the condition in those parishes to be miserable. He found that both the common man, and in many instances, even among the clergy, they did not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments!

It was for this reason that Luther penned the Small Catechism. He intended it to be a useful tool, both in the home and in the church, for providing a basic foundation for understanding the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ as reflected in the Old and New Testaments.

For those of us adhering to the Lutheran liturgical tradition and involving ourselves regularly in the weekly Divine Service, we easily know the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed by heart. But our weekly gatherings do not afford us a regular reciting of the Ten Commandments. Many of us would be challenged to name all ten of the Commandments. And yet this listing is important as well. It is an excellent inventory to help us prepare for making a confession of sins.

I have a simple remedy for our lack of familiarity with the Ten Commandments, and that is Luther’s Small Catechism. And I can suggest a tool to which all of you with smart phones can avail. It is the free app from Concordia Press that is available from both the App Store, and from the Play Store (iPhone & Android). Look for “Luther’s Small Catechism Concordia Publishing House”.

With this app you and your family have an effective tool for learning the principal parts of the catechism, namely the Ten Commandments, The Creed, and The Lord’s Prayer. You also will have prayers and devotional material to use in the home. Check it out.

Since You Asked…

What is the purpose and meaning of our Votive Prayer Candles?

To “light a candle for someone” means that you will say a prayer for them. The candle symbolizes your prayers. When we light a candle it is a sign of attentiveness and that we are being purposeful in offering intercessory prayer. It is an important act in which we are involved! To be in prayer is to be spiritually awake and vigilant. And as the candle continues to burn it symbolizes our ongoing prayers. It is a sign to others that prayers are being offered. In such an atmosphere, indeed the darkness gives way to light.

 

Keeping God's Commandments

 Photo by  Patrick Fore  on  Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

As Christians we should strive to keep God’s commandments. Obedience to the Law is necessary and expected.

Wait a minute! You might be thinking to yourself. Aren’t we taught in Scripture that our salvation is not by works of the law, but through faith in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal. 2:16)? Indeed we are! But that does not mean we can simply dismiss the Law.

When I write of the necessity of striving to keep the commandments, it is not so that we can win God’s approval and earn our salvation. Collectively and individually we have dug ourselves into a hole that we cannot climb out of. All our efforts to extricate ourselves only digs us in deeper. The ability to trust God and to delight in his commands and promises was lost in the Garden of Eden.

God’s Word is clear. Our rescue from sin and its resulting consequences of death is by faith, and not by our efforts! Even that exercise of faith is something we are not naturally interested in or capable of. That interest and capacity comes about by the new birth, which is a spiritual birth from above (cf. John 3:3-8). It comes as a gift of grace (cf. Eph. 2:8-9).

With the new birth, which is given us in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, a new nature arises in us which believes and delights in God’s commands and in his promises (cf. Rom 6:4). But as any Christian knows, the old sinful nature sticks around and tries to maintain control over our lives. And so a battle begins!

We are saved and find favor with God in Christ’s righteousness alone. We add nothing to his merit. But the process of our restoration is necessarily that we might live out the vocation God intended for us in the beginning, that we might represent him to the rest of creation and to love our neighbor. The new nature can begin to live in this way! Yet, it will be a struggle. Without the struggle there is always the danger of sliding back into a hardened, debased condition.

Since You Asked…

Why is incense used in some churches?

The use of incense is not unique to Christianity or Judaism and is used in many of the world’s religions to enhance special times and places by sight and smell. In Christian worship incense is effectively used at the beginning of the Service of the Word and in preparing for receiving Holy Communion. The burning of incense is associated with the prayers of worship rising before God (cf. Psa 141:2; Rev 8:4). Good worship should engage all the human senses. In this connection it should be pointed out that the olfactory sense is perhaps the most sensitive of the five senses; it continues to function even during sleep. (Indebted to Aidan Kavanah in his “Elements of Rite”.)

 

Signs Point to Christ

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Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

In last Sunday’s Gospel text I was intrigued by how often in John’s Gospel miracles are referred to as “signs”! I count 17 times. The use of this word is instructive.

Now a sign is something that points beyond itself. When we use our hands to signal someone, we are trying to point them in the right direction. When we use letters, the letters as they form words, point to some thought or some object. When we sign our name, our name represents us and hopefully our integrity. When we encounter a billboard or traffic signal along the highway, it points to something up ahead.

So when our Lord worked a great wonder, what is often called a miracle, to call this a sign should help us to understand that this is pointing us to something, or someone, beyond itself. And John the Evangelist, the writer of the fourth Gospel, is very clear as to what the miracle points. He writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31).

To put it succinctly, faith in Jesus is the point of all the signs! He is the one who can forgive, restore, and give us Divine life in his name.

If we are not careful we can think that the purpose of the miraculous in Scripture is so that we can learn the art and perform miracles ourselves. Or we might think that if we have the right kind of faith we might have an endless line of getting whatever we ask for. But with both of these options we take center stage and our Lord Jesus becomes a supporting actor. Miracles, as signs, remind us that we have bit parts in the drama in which God stars!

Miracles point to our Lord Jesus so that we might put our trust in him, and by so doing find life in his name.

Since You Asked…

Why do we say in the Creeds that Jesus Christ “is seated at the right hand of the Father”? Does this mean that our Lord is far away from us?

This has little to do with Christ’s physical location. Instead it has to do with the authority he assumes. For a King to be seated on a throne is a symbolic gesture of his rule and authority. Heaven itself is a reality that transcends time and space. It is the unseen and timeless realm that underlies the visible and temporal world. We confess Christ to be seated at the right hand of the Father because we believe him to be the rightful King of the universe. Indeed, Jesus is Lord!

 

Christ Centered

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We claim to be “Christ-Centered”. And in our reading of Holy Writ we teach that the Scriptures all point to Christ, and that he is their fulfillment.

We catch our clues from Scripture itself. For instance, Jesus is recorded to have said to the religious authorities of his day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me” (Jn. 5:39). And many of those leaders refused to come to Jesus that they might have life.

Even Jesus’ handpicked followers had trouble connecting the dots. They were hopeful that Jesus might be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. Certainly the great signs and wonders Jesus performed lent credibility to this hope. But when the Master started to talk about his suffering and death, they began to have doubts. They did not know that the vocation of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant was to be equated with the conquering Messianic King. They never imagined suffering and death as a means of victory. They were not anticipating a Suffering Messiah dying an atoning and substitutionary death.

But starting with Genesis, the first Book of the Bible, God’s master plan for his creation is laid out. You have the account of a good creation corrupted by sin, and then the Lord God going immediately to work to redeem and restore it. Already you have Jesus pointed to in chapter three when the Lord God speaks to the serpent, that is the devil, that the seed of the woman would deliver a fatal blow to him. Then in chapter 12 you have the election of Abraham and his descendants chosen for a special vocation to bless all people. And by Genesis’ end you have the future seed of the woman hinted at in Jacob’s blessing to Judah and his tribe.

Space does not permit me to continue. But consider the Apostle Paul’s words, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Ro. 10:17). Indeed, we are Christ centered!

Since You Asked…

What does the Pastor’s Stole signify? (the stole is the colored strip of cloth that loops around the back of the neck and hangs from both shoulders)

The stole represents a yoke such as would be used to link and employ an ox with a plow or cart. When a work animal is yoked to a task, that animal comes under the rule and guidance of its master. As Christians we are to be yoked to Christ (cf. Mt. 11:28-30). We are to fear, love, serve, and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. The Pastor’s stole is therefore not only a sign of ordination in the Lutheran Church, but it visibly reminds the whole congregation of our servant hood to Christ.

 

The Day of Judgment and the Book of Life

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Does anyone hear mention of God’s judgment these days? Do believers need to take the Day of Judgment seriously? Do we ever talk about God’s holy wrath?

Thanks for asking! You did ask, didn’t you?

The Apostle Paul writes to the Roman Church, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (1:18). This is an early indication of what is to come. The temporal wrath, revealed now, can work remedially to those who humble themselves and accordingly seek safe shelter from God’s ultimate wrath on the Day of Judgment.

As Lutherans, every week we confess in the Creed, “I believe … that he will come again to judge the living and the dead.” In the Book of Revelation we learn in the 20th chapter that we will all stand before the great White Throne of Judgment. The books will be opened. As in a courtroom all the evidence will be presented. God’s verdict will not be arbitrary, but completely just. All of us will be fairly convicted for our evil thoughts, words, and deeds. (cf. Psa. 14:1-3; Rom. 3:10, 23) On our own merits we stand condemned!

So are we to fear God’s wrath? We would be fools not to. Luther states in his Small Catechism concerning obedience to God’s commandments, “We are to fear his wrath and not disobey him.”

In fact, apart from this fearful reality, I’m not sure any of us would cling to the merciful remedy that our Heavenly Father has provided for us through the death and resurrection of his dear Son!

There is a final book to be opened on the Day of Judgment. And that is the Book of Life! Those whose names are recorded there will be sheltered from the dire final consequences of their sins. These are they who knowing themselves unworthy, and fearing God’s wrath, have clung to the gift of Christ’s righteousness in their stead. Knowing of the Judgment matters!

Since You Asked…

Why is the Triune Name of God repeated so frequently in our worship services?

The mystery of the Trinity is one of the most distinctive elements of our Christian Tradition. Christianity is not alone in claiming to be monotheistic (belief in one Supreme Being, one god). But Christianity holds that this One, True God has revealed himself to us as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Scripture teaches that God the Father has revealed himself through God the Son and in God the Spirit. Only the Son can be seen, and only through the Spirit are we enabled to believe in the Father and the Son. And so we often invoke the name of the Triune God in the mystery of our faith.

 

"In Wisdom You Have Made Them All"

“O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties, Above the fruited plain!” I thought of these lyrics as Leslie and I chugged our way on the Empire Builder across the plains of North Dakota and Montana until we arrived at East Glacier Park. And what we saw there was awe inspiring! Truly majestic! Beautiful in splendor and magnificence!

We took this trip to mark our 40th Wedding Anniversary. I stretch the truth a wee bit when I say Glacier National Park was a compromise between an Alaskan Cruise and a desire to sun on the beaches in the Virgin Islands.

The path of the Amtrak we traveled on passed right by Rugby, North Dakota. The significance you ask? That is Naomi Rislow’s hometown. And as we passed by Leslie texted Naomi letting her know we paid appropriate homage.

The entire trip was wonderful with many memorable highlights. But easily the most memorable experience was our close encounter with a Moose. Well actually it was two Moose, a mother cow and her young calf. And yes, the plural of Moose is Moose, and not Meese. And yet the plural of Goose is Geese. Go figure the English language… This particular pair of Moose was insistent on using the hiking path we were on. They persisted. We yielded. You need to ask Leslie about the experience!

I share this with you because I am having trouble coming home from this vacation, so I thought I would bring it back with me and see if I could make hay with it. So let me match our experience of God’s creation with a Psalm. “From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. … The high mountains are for the wild goats; … You make darkness, and it is night, when all the beasts of the forest creep about. … In wisdom you have made them all.” (Psalms 104:13,18,20,24)

Since You Asked…

Why do we stand during the reading of the Gospel Lesson?

What is the purpose of the Psalm Reading? And why do we often sing (chant) the Psalm?

“The appointed psalm is sung as a meditation on the First Lesson, a response to it, and a bridge to the Second Lesson. … Hearers of the lessons need a chance to assimilate the First Lesson before the Second Lesson begins. The required use of a psalm between the lessons provides for the restoration of psalm singing to its traditional place in the life of the church and gives the worshiper the opportunity to participate in the singing (or reading) of a portion of Scripture…” (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)